Interview – Dylan Cuthbert – PixelJunk

We recently got the chance to catch up with a very busy TGS’d out Dylan Cuthbert, head of Q-Games and the creative mastermind behind the devilish PixelJunk Racers PSN game, which we’ll be reviewing very soon. In the meantime, here’s the interview in full:

TSA: Hi Dylan. Thanks for sparing us the time during TGS. How does making a PSN game compare to making the more traditional console games?

Dylan Cuthbert: The cycle is much faster when making a PSN game, and of course the game’s scale is considerably smaller. But in some ways because the development is so highly concentrated you can really focus on just the fun parts of game-making instead of the kind of production slog that games that take 2-3 years to make go through.

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TSA: Do you have a preference?

DC: We are still enjoying making regular consoles games, it’s just a different style of development. It’s really cool to actually get a game out there to people within 6 months of beginning the project, it really feels like the old Amiga or 8-bit days.

TSA: How do you see the PSN affecting game development in the future: for example, would PixelJunk as a company have seen the light of day without the PSN?

DC: Well, PixelJunk is just the brand name, Q-Games is the company and we’ve been making games for quite a while now. However, you would never have seen a game company like Q-Games self-funding PixelJunk in the way we are without PSN. In Japan, we publish it ourselves too, although SCEA has been a great help guiding us through the final production process even with the Japanese version.

TSA: The race for increased graphical power is being somewhat contradicted by PSN games that are all about packing gameplay into a smaller package. What do you think that says about the future direction for the industry?

DC: Well, there are a great many ways to perceive increased graphical power. There is a reason why there aren’t any top-down racers with 80+ cars on the track in older generations – basically, Full-HD is an example of using increased graphical power and then there is the sheer amount of effects you can get away with on the new systems, even in 2D – for example, the heat trails on the cars is a simple example of this. When you get 5 or 6 players racing around in speed monkey with their heat trails flaring out behind them it looks amazing.

TSA: Full HD is fine, but given time, would you have implemented some kind of ‘zoom’ mode for SD-only gamers, or is high definition the standard you’re working towards?

DC: The zoom mode for SD was something we considered, but it simply doesn’t work for multi-player, so if the player got used to it they would then have to get re-used to the zoomed out version when they play with their friends. Playing SD via component or D1 isn’t too bad though – it can be a bit of a flicker-fest with a regular interlace old-school tv via composite though! (then again, most games are)

TSA: Racers looks to be easiest to pigeonhole from the three on your website – can you tell us anything about the one that looks like Tower Defense?

DC: The “Tower Defense” game is probably going to be called PixelJunk Monsters, it does take elements of Tower Defense games and mixes them up with elements from console games to make them far more accessible to people who are used to games like Zelda or Animal Crossing etc. There are plenty of Q-Games’ touches to give the game more of a twist than the flash versions, and of course it is all in glorious HD and runs at 60 frames a second.

TSA: Sounds cool. Are you happy with the critical reaction to ‘Racers, with particular reference to the middling review scores but acclaim from the gamers who have actually purchased it?

DC: Reviews are never to be trusted, especially those by the big companies. These guys don’t buy their games, every day they get 100s of free games they have to go through and review, I doubt they spend longer than a couple of minutes on PSN games unless there is some kind of hype surrounding it beforehand. We are really happy though with the player’s reactions, people who actually bought it and gave the game a go really seem to understand how addicting it is. We still play this game here and are still having great fun – the development team still enjoying the game after it has shipped – that’s quite a testament for any game!

TSA: Are you planning any further downloads for ‘Racers – extra tracks, more Score Attacks, downloadable replays etc?

DC: We’ll consider expansions for PixelJunk Racers if it looks like there is a demand, but for the time being we want to concentrate on the next 3 titles. (yes, a fourth has begun prototyping).

TSA: We especially like the throttle control on the splash screen, and hope this is something that will tie in other games in the Pixeljunk range – was this an attempt to create continuity between games or just offer the most basic of tutorials?

DC: The throttle on the title screen was a cool idea by the guys here to try and teach people that the analogue triggers are actually analogue. One initial problem all players have is they just put their foot to the floor and treat the trigger button as digital. The more control you can give it the better you’ll get at the game.

TSA: The last car on the first Score Attack doesn’t always move at the same speed, meaning fast times (you can’t beat our score of 11.10 on the first Score Attack, can you?) depend on whether it’s still slow after 5 seconds. For addicts like us, could you explain why this occurs in a score attack situation?

DC: The AI for the other cars show emergent behaviour sometimes, maybe they are alive! But seriously, the AI takes in a lot of variables to make its decisions, for Pace cars this means that some small tiny thing or timing from what the player is doing is causing the AI car to speed up. For the online games the random is re-seeded so apart from differences in input from the player you should get the same result everytime. Of course, it could also be a bug that slipped through…

TSA: Thanks for your time!

PixelJunk Racers is out now in Japan and the US (via the PlayStation Store) and is due very soon in Europe. Find out more at PixelJunk.jp.


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